When Faith and Reason Cooperate

Howard Van Till

Calvin College
Grand Rapids MI

As beneficiaries of the same Reformed Christian heritage, Alvin Plantinga and I are likely to articulate our theological positions in similar conceptual vocabularies, view many issues from nearby standpoints, and hold numerous important beliefs in common. With little difficulty I could use my allotted space to reflect appreciatively on the sizeable intersection of our commitments and perspectives. However, at the risk of appearing excessively contentious, most of this response will concern those areas where there is some disagreement and those matters that need further development. Even in this endeavor I shall have to be both selective and brief.

A. Faith, Reason and Conflict

I have long been sorely vexed at the frequency with which the warfare metaphor has been employed in the discussion of the relationship of natural science and Christian belief. And my irritation seems to be irreversibly amplified each time I observe the proponents of "creation-science" or the preachers of modem Western naturalism resonantly encourage one another in the perpetuation of this conflict thesis in the service of their own polemical agendas.1 

Hence, with all due respect for the long history of the faith-versus-reason discussion, I believe it was most inappropriate for Plantinga to employ the conflict metaphor as frequently as he did in his paper. In fact, I would strongly contest the idea that a Christian critique of the scientific concept of evolution can fruitfully be conducted in the arena of the historical faith-versus-reason tension. As persons already committed to faith in God, our concern is not with faith versus reason, nor is it with the unambiguous teaching of the Bible versus the "teachings"

(Plantinga's term) of contemporary natural science. Rather, it is our earnest desire to bring into consonance our reasoned understanding of tile Scriptures and our reasoned understanding of the Creation. At a number of points Plantinga acknowledged this, but all too often the emotion-laden rhetoric of faith versus reason appeared, thereby clouding the atmosphere of fruitful response to the question, "How shall we think about this matter?"

Perhaps my complaint is primarily with Plantinga's use of the term faith. In most instances in this paper the term does not refer to one's personal commitment to act in the warranted confidence that the object of one's faith is trustworthy (e.g., to have faith that God will provide lovingly for our needs); rather, Plantinga employs the term principally as an abbreviated version of "a deliverance of the faith." And, in the context of the issue at hand, I take this to be a reference to some specific belief concerning what the Scriptures require a Christian to affirm, a belief held mostly for the reason that it constitutes an element in the received Christian tradition (e.g., the belief that the Bible teaches the concept of special creation), In fairness, however, we should note the possibility that belief in such a "deliverance of the faith" might well be strengthened as a result of contemporary reexamination.

As I see it, the real challenge that stands before us is not to resolve some conflict between Christian faith and scientific reasoning, but instead to promote a cooperative effort of Christian scientists and biblical scholars as together we seek to grow in our understanding of what Scripture requires of us and of what the Creation's formative history was like. My version of McGonagall's rhyme would be:

When faith and reason appear to clash,
'tis the appearance must go to smash.

Plantinga does, however, go well beyond the confines of conflict rhetoric to note the genuine difficulties encountered when Christians seek to draw from all relevant resources in formulating or evaluating theories concerning tile historical manifestation of God's creative activity. And I must admit that I had Plantinga's concerns in mind when writing the introduction to Portraits of Creation, the product of an interdisciplinary study on the topic "Creation and Cosmogony." Because of their direct relevance, I shall quote three full paragraphs from that introduction.

 As Christians we rightly seek to grow in our understanding of God and of his works in this world, Focusing our attention here on our efforts to understand the physical universe as the Creation with which God continues to interact, we desire to construct and evaluate our theoretical models by drawing upon all that we know about the world. Specifically we wish to incorporate both what we know (or think that we know) by empirical study of the created world and what we know (or think that we know) by exegetical study of the Scriptures.

In drawing from each resource, however, we face difficult questions regarding both epistemology and hermeneutics. What do we really know, for example, from the results of empirical science? In the context of conflicting claims by "experts," some genuine, some bogus, how do we come to know that a particular scientific theory should be held with a high degree of confidence? Have the relevant empirical data been competently interpreted? Have we made the move from "raw data" to systematizing and interpretive theory with the requisite level of scientific proficiency and integrity? And in making this move, have we made full and proper use of what we know from a faithful and well-informed study of the Scriptures?

Likewise, what do we really know from the results of biblical exegesis? In the context of conflicting claims by "experts," some genuine, some bogus, how do we come to know that a particular theological theory should be held with a high degree of confidence? Have the relevant biblical data been competently interpreted? Have we made the move from "raw data" to systematizing and interpretive doctrine with the requisite level of exegetical proficiency and integrity? And in making this move have we made full and proper use of what we know from an honest and skillful investigation of the Creation?2

Plantinga seems well aware of the need for paying careful attention to matters of epistemology and hermeneutics in the arena of the natural sciences. (I may submit this observation as my entry in the "colossal understatements" category of the Guinness Book of World Records.) More than half of his paper is devoted to questions in this arena of concern. But where is the evidence for a comparable level of concern for dealing with the equally difficult and relevant issues of epistemology and hermeneutics in the arena of biblical exegesis? Where is the concern to deal with the crucial questions of literary genre and historical context? Where is the concern to distinguish the enduring message for today from its original textual expression in the limited conceptual vocabulary of a much earlier culture? In places where we might have expected Plantinga to pose penetrating questions that would challenge (in the constructive sense) the accuracy of the relevant "deliverances, of the faith" (i.e., received traditions concerning what the Bible does or does not teach us regarding the historical particulars of God's creative work in forming the universe and its rich variety of structures and creatures), we find Plantinga instead choosing not to engage the contributions of biblical scholarship. In place of scholarly considerations we find the popular language of unexamined traditional exegesis. Plantinga writes, for example, of what "the Bible initially seems to tell us about the origin and development of life," and about what the Bible "taken at face value ... seems to teach."

But how well does this hermeneutic of "initially seems" and "taken at face value" actually hold up? Granted that the Bible's redemptive message is sufficiently clear (the doctrine concerning the perspicuity of Scripture is not under attack here), the issue at hand concerns complex intellectual questions, and for these questions--head knowledge" as distinct from "heart knowledge"-we need far more than a naive biblical hermeneutic or a simple "folk exegesis." Plantinga did acknowledge this in a later section, but it seems to me that he allowed the results of "folk exegesis" to set the initial tone and to provide the appearance of warrant for the conflict thesis approach.

This brings me back to my criticism regarding Plantinga's use of the faith versus-reason rhetoric. The "faith" of which he speaks is not our core commitment of trust in God but "deliverances of the faith," that is, particular statements that might be believed as authentic nianifc4ztations of our trust in God and the truth of what he has revealed.3 However, even if our trust in God's truthfulness were as genuine and complete as humanly possible, our knowledge of what particular beliefs ought thereby follow as manifestations of that trust might be both incomplete and inaccurate. Determining what specific propositions (e.g., proper interpretations of the biblical text) constitute authentic and properly warranted manifestations of Christian faith is an ongoing and never completed human enterprise.

For example, is the concept of special creation required of all persons who profess trust in the Creator-God revealed in Scripture? While most Christians in my acquaintance who are engaged in either scientific or biblical scholarship have concluded that the special creationist picture of the world's formation is not a necessary component of Christian belief, the larger North American Christian community is deeply divided over this issue.4 But questions regarding the relationship between the scientific concept of evolutionary development and biblical proclamations concerning creation can not legitimately be framed in the faith versus-reason rhetoric unless we are agreed (on the basis of something far more substantial than unexamined tradition or "folk exegesis") either that the concept of special creation is required or that the concept of biological evolution is excluded by faithful biblical exegesis. Furthermore, it could well be argued that to hold the special creationist interpretation of early Genesis is not so much a manifestation of faith in God as it is a manifestation of uncritical acceptance of a particular exegetical tradition. Hence the faith-versus-reason discussion soon degenerates into a contest between rigid traditionalism and open inquiry.

Personally, I heartily agree with those biblical scholars who conclude that the concept of special creation (immediate formation of creatures not genealogically related) is not biblically warranted. Furthermore, it is my firm conviction that the Bible does not at all exclude a full evolutionary development of life forms in a manner similar to that envisioned by modern biological theory. In fact, I would argue-along the lines of the "categorical complementarity" approach offered in The Fourth Day-that the Bible has little of relevance to offer toward either the formulation or evaluation of scientific theories concerning biological history.5 I say this not by "deciding in advance what Scripture can speak on," but in large part by respecting God's choice for the historical and cultural contexts in which the biblical text was to be written. Was it not God's choice to accommodate this mode of revelation to the historically and culturally, limited conceptual vocabularies of the day? The human writers inspired by God had no vocabulary for concepts like galactic redshift, thermonuclear fusion, plate tectonics, space-time metrics, radiometric dating, stellar evolution, ionizing radiation, chemical reactions, atomic spectra, deoxyribonucleic acid, proteinoid microspheres, genetic drift, molecular clocks, configurational entropy, microevolution, macroevolution, etc., etc., etc.. Hence, to expect the Scriptures to provide us with the kind of statements that would be directly relevant to the evaluation of contemporary scientific theories on the world's formative history strikes me as profoundly misguided.

Plantinga's question, "Just how does Scripture work as a source of proper belief?" is,  therefore, one that we must continue to ask. This question regarding the proper epistemological role of the biblical text in the formulation and evaluation of theories-especially of scientific theories-deserves far more attention than Plantinga gives it in this particular paper. One thing, however, seems clear to me: framing the Christian critique of evolutionary theories in the rhetoric of faith versus-reason offers little hope for growth in our reasoned understanding of either the Scriptures or the Creation. When the concept of special creation is presented in association with faith and the concept of evolutionary development is identified with reason, many persons within the Christian constituency that both Plantinga and I seek to serve leap with little hesitation to the conclusion that to speak approvingly of evolution is to be unfaithful to God our Creator. Because my personal experience has provided me with more than enough of that rhetoric to make me nauseously weary, I strongly discourage further employment of the warfare metaphor in this context.

B. Is the "Grand Evolutionary Story" religiously neutral?

The answer to this question depends, of course, on the precise definitions of both "religious neutrality" and the "Grand Evolutionary Story." Let's deal with the neutrality question first. What qualities must a scientific theory possess in order to be called religiously neutral?

Does religious neutrality here require that a scientific theory be immune from employment in the mythology of all religious cultures, including atheistic ones? If so, then no scientific theory could possibly qualify. Given the creativity of the human imagination, anything from atomism to zoology could be incorporated into one's mythology. Hence while it may be fitting to recognize that some scientific theories have in fact been woven into the fabric of more comprehensive myths, to equate religious neutrality with mythological immunity would be to trivialize the concept and to render it meaningless.

Suppose, then, that we try to define religious neutrality by saying that a scientific theory is religiously neutral if it entails neither the affirmation nor the denial of religious dogma. Taking "religious dogma" in the broad sense to mean both the formalized creeds of a religion and the set of communally held auxiliary beliefs traditionally associated with that religion, we are once again faced with a problem. Religious dogma taken in this broad sense could easily include beliefs about the physical universe (its age, for instance) that fall within the domain of empirical science. Hence it soon becomes clear that almost any theory of modern science could entail either the denial or affirmation of a "deliverance of the faith" (an element in the received tradition) and thereby fail this test of religious neutrality.

But what if we take "religious dogma" in the narrow sense of formalized creedal statements alone? Suppose, to be specific, we selected as a set of formalized creeds the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort? The neutrality test is now clarified substantially, but numerous scientific theories would still likely fail. It is unavoidable that statements referring to the created world would be expressed in the conceptual vocabulary drawn from the world picture that prevailed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when these creeds were written. Hence, wherever contemporary science has replaced that vocabulary with new words and concepts a tension between modern science and the traditional creeds will necessarily arise.

With Plantinga, I would not defend natural science as being religiously  neutral in the sense either of mythological immunity or of dogmatic isolation. I would, however, argue for the religious inconclusiveness of contemporary theories of natural science in the restricted sense of logical independence from both modern Western naturalism and basic Christian theism. Suppose we define "basic Christian theism" by the Apostles' Creed and modern Western naturalism by Sagan's oft-quoted line, "The Cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be."  Then I would argue that modern scientific theories concerning the properties, behavior and formative history of the physical universe are logically independent of both theism and naturalism, favoring neither one nor the other. I see no logical entanglement, for instance, between these religious commitments and the theories of big-bang cosmology, stellar evolution, plate tectonics and the like.

Does this apply to the "Grand Evolutionary Story" (GES) as well? That depends on how the GES is told. If the scope of the story is restricted to matters pertaining only to the physical properties, physical behavior and formative history of life forms, then the GES may well be logically independent of both theism and naturalism. If, on the other hand, the GES is told in such a way as to include substantive statements regarding the source of the world's existence, the relation ship of material behavior to divine governance, or the place of questions about purpose, value and ultimate meaning, then the GES will be inherently religious. 

My personal conviction is that the scientific core of the story (most likely to appear in the professional journal literature) is logically independent of both theism and naturalism, but that the story told in most modern popularizations of evolutionary theory is embedded in a matrix of naturalistic apologetics, thereby giving many unwary readers the impression that the popularity of the scientific theory grows primarily because of its apologetic usefulness. Monod's Chance and Necessity, Dawkins' The Blind Watchmaker, Gould's Wonderful Life and similar works have served well to promote that impression. Now, although this apologetic employment of evolutionary theory may help us understand some of the things we see these days-the popularity of certain books, the "creation-science" movement, large audiences at creation-evolution debates-we should be extremely cautious in assuming that apologetic attractiveness also accounts for the success of evolutionary theory in the arena of professional science. On the advice of numerous Christian biologists I am led to the conclusion that the scientific success of the concept of biological evolution is the product of proper theory evaluation and that the apologetic employment of evolutionary theory in the "folk-science" of evolutionary naturalism is a regrettable and irritating cultural phenomenon that we must deal with on its own terms-not as science, but as the misemployment of science in a religious agenda.6

One aspect of the scientific enterprise brought to our attention by Thomas Kuhn is that our doing of science and our talking about what we do in science may be quite different from one another, even to the point of incongruity. Hence we have no right uncritically to assume that the popular rhetoric of biologists like Provine or Dawkins constitutes an accurate indicator of how theories of biological evolution have in fact achieved their present state of credibility in the professional arena. 

C. Is Dawkins' intellectual fulfillment warranted?

In his argument against the idea that the GES could be religiously neutral (neutrality being defined, apparently, as mythological immunity) Plantinga called attention to several examples of the way in which proponents of naturalism have incorporated the concept of evolution into their mythology. The example that played the leading role in the development of this point was the quotation from Richard Dawkins: "although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."7

Plantinga goes on to explain why he grants Dawkins' point. The question at issue, he says, is, "How is it that there are all the kinds of floras and faunas we behold; how did they all get here?" For the Christian, says Plantinga, the answer is obvious: "They have been created by the Lord." For the atheist, on the other hand, "the Grand Evolutionary Story gives the answer" by describing how life arose and diversified by "purely natural means." But I would argue that both of these answers encourage a mischievous misconstrual of the issue. The central problem with each is a failure to distinguish authentically religious questions from questions accessible to modern empirical science-the common error of treating creation and evolution as if they were in essence alternative answers to the same question.

If the "how" question posed by Plantinga is meant to focus our attention on the physical, chemical, biological and chronological questions of the formative history of the particular array of flora and fauna we now see, then a Christian's reference to their having been created by the Lord, while religiously very important, is scientifically irrelevant. But if, on the other hand, Plantinga's "how" question is meant to focus our attention on the authentically religious question of whether or not the formative history of the universe and its life forms is an expression of the sovereign Creator's intentions and is radically dependent on God's enabling sustenance and directing governance, then an atheist's reference to the concept of biological evolution, while scientifically important, is religiously irrelevant (or at least inconclusive). Consequently, I find Dawkins' claims to intellectual fulfillment extremely shallow and unsatisfying, and I find Plantinga's granting of Dawkins' point very puzzling. Dawkins deserves a far larger dose of Plantinga's analytical, rhetorical and polemical skills than he received in this essay.

Perhaps the point I wish to make could best be illustrated by recounting a little-known episode from the Copernican controversy. Our story centers on the Soltheists, a medieval society of sun-worshipers, whose flourishing was attributed by many observers to the heliocentric theory of the solar system made famous by Copernicus.

The Soltheists took immediate advantage of the Copernican theory. For them it was not merely a theory of terrestrial revolution, but the "Principle of Solar Centrality." As such it appeared to be employable as the ideal apologetic tool in promoting their religion of Soltheism. To the scientific concept of the orbital centrality of the sun they could easily append the religious concept of the divine identity of the Sun. (In ancient Egypt this would have been seen as a Reinterpretation of the heliocentric theory.)

Hardric Snikwad, author of an utterly wrong-headed book that shamelessly exploited the Copernican theory in his Soltheist mythology, was recognized as one of the more colorful and outspoken advocates of the Principle of Solar Centrality and an ardent admirer of Copernicus. In fact, at one of those elegant, candle-lit, bibulous Bullford Academy dinners he leaned over and remarked to a like-minded colleague, "Although Soltheism. might have been logically tenable before Copernicus, Copernicus has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled Soltheist."

Overhearing this specious remark was another dinner guest, World B. Fixed, who used to play roundball with the Alexandria Ptolemaics. Fixed quickly seized the occasion to score a point in favor of his own agenda and responded in a confident voice that all nearby diners could hear, "Snikward's remark confirms a suspicion I've held for a long time. The theory of terrestrial revolution is no more than a thin scientific disguise for the religious Principle of Solar Centrality. The concept of earth's dual motion is not only contradicted by what the Scriptures, taken at face value, seem to teach (cf. Ps. 93:1 and 104:5) but its growing acceptance in our day is merely a consequence of its apologetic usefulness for the sun-worshiners who have come to dominate the Medieval Astronomical Society."

After a brief but effective pause he continued, "But, of  course, for the Soltheist, heliocentrism is the only game in town; it is an essential part of any reasonably complete Soltheistic way of thinking; hence the devotion to it, and the venom, the theological odium with which dissent is greeted."

Although it was not immediately apparent to the diners listening to this exchange, Snikwad was actually quite pleased with the kind of adversarial approach taken by Fixed, because it gave the appearance ol making the truth of biblical theism dependent on the falsehood of the Copernican theory regarding planetary motions-a matter not essentially religious but relevant because the Ptolemaic picture had become historically associated with other deliverances of the Christian faith and because a popular exegetical tradition in support of that picture had developed.

One of the listeners, however, was displeased with both of the contenders. A middle-aged astronomer named Sigh Yensma (part Frisian, I believe), a chap with strong interests in both philosophy and theology but with credentials in neither, found himself unable to maintain silence. "Gentlemen," began Sigh, "you have embarked on a debate which is assured to promote nothing but confusion and hostility. Both of you must come to the realization that the Copernican theory of terrestrial revolution is religiously inconclusive. Although Snikwad may find the theory apologetically useful, he hardly has cause to celebrate intellectual fulfillment; the question of the sun's deity is a question categorically distinct from the matter of its orbital centrality in the planetary system. And while World B. Fixed might find that the Copernican theory calls for a re-examination of his traditional reading of the Bible, his faith in God should never be allowed to become dependent on the accuracy of his Ptolemaic picture of the geometrical arrangement or motion of the sun and the planets. Soltheists and biblical geocentrists alike will have to learn to evaluate scientific theories on the basis of a competently and honestly applied system of appropriate criteria."

Sigh interrupted his ponderous monologue just long enough to take a fortifying sip of the local brew and then, turning to Snikwad, said, "You know, Snikwad, I deeply resent what you and your Soltheist friends are doing to the reputation of the scientific enterprise. You see, I seek to serve God just as faithfully as does Mr. Fixed here. At the same time I find the Copernican theory of terrestrial revolution to have considerable scientific merit. Oh, there are numerous questions on which it is silent, and it hasn't been unequivocally established, but it's highly credible nonetheless. However, by your specious and shrewd exploitation of the Copernican theory in your Soltheist mythology many of my fellow believers are moved to denounce the entire concept of a heliocentric solar system as a threat to their faith. I'm trying to get them to distinguish the issues of solar centrality and solar deity as being logically independent, but in the atmosphere created by your pompous preaching of Soltheist folkscience it's not an easy task."

The conversation among Sigh, Fixed and Snikwad is reported to have continued for another eighteen minutes, but unfortunately there is an unexplained gap in the tape recording at this point. We'll have to use our imagination to compensate the loss. Furthermore, although I could make the application of this story to the present issue of biological evolution explicit, that would be belaboring the obvious. As the ocean floor said to the continental plate, "I'm sure vou get my drift."

D. Should Christian scholarship reject methodological naturalism?

In the section titled "The Likelihood of Evolution," comprising about half of the paper, Plantinga presents his evaluation of selected empirical evidence relevant to the macroevolutionary scenario and he concludes that as a Christian he finds the concept of special creation more credible. My own inclinations, on the other hand, are toward an evolutionary picture-not only because it provides a coherent means of integrating a broad array of empirical evidence (I will leave Plantinga's handling of specific empirical matters for Christian biologists to evaluate), but also because it comports with the theological position that the world created by the God who reveals himself in Scripture is a world characterized by what I shall call functional integrity.

By this term I mean to denote a created world that has no functional deficiencies, no gaps in its economy of the sort that would require God to act immediately, temporarily assuming the role of creature to perform functions within the economy of the creation that other creatures have not been equipped to perform. When the Creator says, "Let the land produce vegetation," or "Let the water teem with living creatures," or "Let the land produce living creatures," a world created with functional integrity will, by the enabling power and directing governance of God, be able to respond obediently and employ its capacities to carry out the intentions of the Creator.

This theological position is stated clearly by John Stek in his contribution to Portraits of Creation. Concerning the creation as God's Kingdom Stek says,

It possesses its own integral and integrating economy. Each of its components has its own internal economy (e.g., the biological economy of plants and animals), and all of its components were created to fill out and integrate the economy of the whole.... Furthermore, the internal economy of the created realm is neither incomplete nor defective. That is to say, it contains no gaps that have to be filled with continuous or sporadic immediate operations of divine power; God is not himself a component within the internal economy of his creaturely realm.8

From this theological starting point, drawn from a thorough exegetical study of Scripture, Stek is led to state a number of implications regarding human knowledge of the created world. One especially relevant observation is that:

Since the created realm is replete with its own economy that is neither incomplete (God is not a component within it) nor defective, in our understanding of the economy of that realm so as to exercise stewardship over it... we must methodologically exclude all notions of immediate divine causality. As stewards of the creation we must methodologically honor the principle that creation interprets creation.... In pursuit of a stewardly understanding of the creation, we may not introduce a "God of the gaps...." We may not do so (1) because God is not an internal component within the economy of the created realm, and (2) because to do so would be to presume to exercise power over God-the presumptuous folly of those in many cultures who have claimed to be specialists in the manipulation of divine polvers.9

In Christian Belief in a Postinodern World, a lucid and helpful work on the constructive relationship of Christian faith and careful reasoning, philosopher Diogenes Allen articulates similar concepts of the created world and scientific descriptions of it. Concerning the limits of the competence of scientific investigation he reminds us that 

our natural sciences seek to describe and explain the relations between the members of the universe, not their origin... rhe existence of the universe and its basic constituents are taken for granted by our sciences.... When we consider the whole of nature, the relations we find within nature cannot tell us why the universe exists nor why it is the kind of universe that it is. The continuing increase of scientific knowledge, which discovers the relations that exist within our universe, does not get us closer to an answer to either question.10

Hence, as Christians we do not look for gaps either in the present-day functioning of the universe or in its formative history-gaps into which the immediate action of God might be inserted. Says Allen,

This is theologically improper because God, as creator of the universe, is not a member of the universe. God can never properly be used in scientific accounts, which are formulated in terms of the relations between the members of the universe, because that would reduce God to the status of a creature. According to a Christian conception of God as creator of a universe that is rational through and through, there are no missing relations between the members of nature. If, in our study of nature, we run into what seems to be an instance of a connection missing between members of nature, the Christian doctrine of creation implies that we should keep looking for one.11

Applying this approach to questions regarding biological evolution, Allen rejects the view, rooted largely in Aristotle, that species must be fixed-a view that would force Christians to reject any concept of genealogical continuity in favor of special creationism. "But," says Allen, "The Christian conviction that God is the Creator is the claim that nature's order is intended by God, not the claim that present-day life forms arose directly from God's action." 12 To argue, as do some contemporary proponents of special creationism, that belief in God as Creator logically entails the impossibility of genealogical continuity in the formative history of living creatures is, according to Allen, contrary to the Christian conviction that a rational God creates a universe with members that are coherently connected. Rather than defending Christianity against science, it contradicts a fundamental Christian conviction."13

Given my theologically-rooted conviction that the created world is characterized by functional integrity, both in its present operation and in its formative history, and given my judgment that speciation within the bounds of genealogical continuity would constitute a remarkably elegant expression of that functional integrity, I expect the scientific search for evolutionary accounts of the history of life forms to be an increasingly fruitful enterprise. As Allen notes, "Christianity rightly endorses the search for such accounts on the ground that the source of the universe is rational and so there are connections to be found between its members."14

With Stek, Allen and others, I understand the natural sciences to be properly engaged in, and limited to, a study of the properties, behavior and interrelationships among the diverse members of the created world. As such, science does not make explicit mention of God's creative activity as the source and sustainer of the world's existence, or as the architect of the particular dynamic order exhibited by the world, or as the One whose enabling power and blessing are necessary for all components of the world to act as they do in carrying out his intentions for their being. "There is a discontinuity," says Allen, "between God and our scientific explanations because God's relation to the universe is that of Creator [to the created] and the sciences study [only] the relations between the members of the universe."15 Science does not have either the competence or the calling to study the creative relationship between the universe and God. Neither do the sciences have the right to bring God's creative activity down to the level of creaturely action and treat God as if he were a component in the economy of the created world.

But the scientific approach that I have here described (as have others elsewhere) is characterized by Plantinga as the strategy of "methodological naturalism" or "provisional atheism"-a strategy that he judges to be inferior because it seems arbitrarily to exclude explicit reference to God's immediate action from its theoretical explanations. "What we need," says Plantinga, "is a scientific account of life that isn't restricted by methodological naturalism.... We need Theistic Science."

My criticism will concern both the terminology and substance of this claim. With Stek and Allen I believe there are good theological reasons for keeping scientific accounts within the bounds of creaturely phenomena alone; God's creative activity is not an empirically accessible component within the economy of the created world. Hence I find Plantinga's use of terms like "methodological naturalism" and "provisional atheism" highly pejorative. As I see it, granting the limited competence of natural science is not a concession to naturalism; rather, it is simply a recognition that we have empirical access only to creaturely phenomena. And constructing scientific accounts of the formative history of life forms without explicit appeal to immediate acts of the Creator is not a capitulation to atheism; rather, it is a theologically-based recognition that God is not one component among many others in the economy of the created world-God's creative action, operating at a level different from creaturely action, undergirds all that occurs, not only that which eludes our first efforts toward scientific description.

Posing the possibility that all of the present floras and faunas developed over an extended period of time in a genealogically continuous manner from earlier forms, or even proposing that the first living structure formed from inanimate components, in no way denies or even calls into question the creative work of God; rather, it should call us to consider the incomprehensible creativity required  of God to give being to a world with such a degree of functional integrity that it could, with God's blessing, so respond in obedient ( to his "Let the land bring forth....")

Methodological naturalism? Provisional atheism? Highly perjorative terms that function only to cloud the issue. It would be far more fitting, I believe, to think of the approach that I have described simply as natural science performed within the arena permitted by biblical theism-science recognized as providing an incomplete picture of reality because of its inablity to probe beyond the creaturely realm (I deplore scientism as much as Plantinga does), science that needs to be placed within the framework of an all-emcompassing, biblically informed, theistic worldview that does indeed draw from all that we know about God, his creation and his revelation. Call this broader activity of placing the results of natural science in the framework of theism by the name Theistic Science if you like, but contrary to Plantinga's vision for it I propose that it should differ from ordinary science not by the occasional insertion ( immediate divine acts into a world whose internal economy is either deficient or defective, but rather by its recognition that every aspect of the world's functionally complete economy is radically dependent on the Creator's ceaseless activity: as the world's Originator, Sustainer, Governor and Provider.

Plantinga placed his reflections on evolution and the Bible in the framework of the faith versus reason debate-"when faith and reason clash." I see no hope for progress in that approach. As I see it, progress in this discussion will come only when we work communally toward growth in our reasoned understanding of the Scriptures and in our reasoned understanding of the Creation-when faith and reason cooperate.


1For an extended expression of my irritation relative to this issue see chapter 8 of Van Till, Snow, Stek and Youn& Portraits of Creation: Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World's Formation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), pp. 266-77.

2Van Till et al., Portraits of Creation, p. ix.

3This useful distinction between trust in God and specific beliefs that might constitute authentic manifestations of that trust can be found in the introduction to Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, editors, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).

4 or critiques of how the "creation-science" movement encourages this division see Van Till et al., Portraits of Creation, pp. 166-202, and Van Till, Young and Menninga, Science Held Hostage: Mat's Wrong with Creation-Science AND Evolutionism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), pp. 45-124.

5Howard J. Van Till, The Fourth Day: Mat the Bible and the Heavens Are Telling Us about the Creation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

6See Science Held Hostage, pp. 125-78.

7Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1986), p. 6.

8john Stek, in Portraits of Creation, p. 254,

9Stek, in Portraits of Creation, p. 261.

10Diogenes Allen, Christian Belief in a Postmodern World (Louisville: Westminster /John Knox Press, 1989), p. 53.

11"Allen, Christian Belief, p. 45.

12AIIen, Christian Belief, p. 59. 

13AIlen, Christian Belief, p. 59.

14AlIen, Christian Belief, p. 59.

15AIlen, Christian Belief, p. 75.